GENEVA, Switzerland -- A group of independent United Nations human rights experts has asked the Venezuelan government for prompt clarification of allegations of arbitrary detention and excessive use of force and violence against protesters, journalists and media workers during recent protests.
“The recent violence amid protests in Venezuela need to be urgently and thoroughly investigated, and perpetrators must be held accountable,” the experts stressed in a news release. They also expressed their shock at the reported deaths of at least 17 persons during the demonstrations.
“We are deeply disturbed by the allegations of multiple cases of arbitrary detention of protesters. Some were reportedly beaten – and in some cases severely tortured – by security forces, taken to military facilities, kept in incommunicado detention, and denied access to legal assistance,” they said. “These reports need to be urgently clarified and anyone who remains arbitrarily detained should be released without condition.”
The experts – all of whom are appointed by, and report to, the UN Human Rights Council – also drew attention to reports of violence against journalists and media workers monitoring and reporting on demonstrations in Venezuela.
“Ensuring full protection to journalists and media workers covering the difficult period experienced by the country today is crucial,” they stressed, adding that the reports of the arbitrary detention of various journalists and the suspension of the broadcasting activities of TV channel NTN24 covering the protests are “very worrying.”
The experts, who acknowledged the call for a national dialogue made by President Nicolás Maduro, emphasized the importance of fully guaranteeing the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association, opinion and expression in this critical context.
“The reconciliatory dialogue that is so deeply needed in Venezuela is not going to take place if political leaders, students, media groups and journalists are harassed and intimidated by the authorities,” they stated.
In addition, they said they stand ready to travel to the country and engage in a constructive dialogue with all parties, and called on the government to respond positively to pending requests to visit.
Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
The experts speaking out on Venezuela are Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mads Andenas, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on arbitrary detention; Juan Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
Meanwhile, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, reiterated his position in favour of the promotion of dialogue between the government and the opposition in Venezuela, as the key to unlock the situation in the South American country.
In a conversation about the current hemispheric context held in the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the OAS secretary general insisted that "the only solution is dialogue, because no one will win with the current situation," referring to the climate of political polarization that pervades Venezuelan society.
In its initial approach and in his responses, Insulza said the OAS and other multilateral agencies can help to restore the dialogue in Venezuela, and he explained that the hemispheric organization bases its work entirely on the promotion of peace and dialogue between parties when countries in the region go through conflict situations.
In this context, he welcomed the convocation of a Permanent Council on Thursday to discuss the situation of the South American country that concerns all member states, while he also expressed his reservations as to the delay in holding that meeting and the fact that it will be private.
"This meeting should have been called several days ago, because the situation that exists in Venezuela so requires," added the leader of the institution.
He explained that the private nature of the Permanent Council’s meeting called to discuss the situation in Venezuela was decided by the chairman of that body, in accordance with his established powers, but he also expressed satisfaction that the meeting will finally take place.
Insulza admitted the responsibility of the regional organization to accommodate the analysis of Venezuelan events and to support all efforts aimed at bringing both parties closer. In this regard, Insulza is in favor of sending an emissary to work along this line, and he explained that this person "must be someone that both parties trust," but what will not help, he said, "is to favor one of the two sides" of the conflict.
When analyzing the situation in the South American country, the head of the hemispheric organization said that "from an objective standpoint, we can say that Venezuela is a highly divided society, with massive support for both parties."
Secondly, the secretary general stated that Venezuela faces "serious economic and social issues," among which he mentioned the high rate of inflation, the decline in oil production, and the shortage of consumer goods.
Thirdly, he noted that it is necessary to recognize that there is a "real, strong and mobilized opposition," which is made up of different sectors of society.
Insulza said the OAS has the capacity to try to “restore” the situation of conflict in Venezuela, but he explained that “it cannot intervene” in the South American country without the request or acceptance of the country concerned.
He noted that the OAS does not act upon the request of individuals, but member states; “these are the rules of the game,” he said.
He added that the only case in which individuals can go to the OAS is before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH).
“Other than that, the OAS can only act at the request of member states,” Insulza reiterated.
Insulza also expressed concern for the deaths and other human rights violations that are occurring in Venezuela and asserted that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous organ of the OAS, must render an opinion, and has done so, in this regard.
For his part, Carl Meacham, director for CSIS Americas Program and moderator of the talk given by Insulza, expressed his concern that the situation in Venezuela may cause a contagion effect in the region.